It’s one of those posts that I dodged writing for a long time, but the paragraphs and sentences kept popping in my head. While making sandwiches for the kids, or in the shower or when reconciling my bank account. It just wouldn’t go away. A topic that has been written about from so many angles from so many people, but yet the hardest topic a wife and mother STILL deals with.
Talking about the challenges of raising children while running a business – working from home and being a mother. And further – which role is harder? Is there a “right” one? And by whose definition are we comparing it to?
I have been the career woman. It was invigorating. I’ve enjoyed the intellectual stimulation with colleagues and water cooler discussions; I’ve produced the sales reports and hosted the management meetings. I helped set the annual goals and then basked in the rewards of when they were achieved. I have helped develop businesses and made other entrepreneurs a lot of money while cashing in my bi-weekly salaried paycheck. While I often took work home with me (simply because I had a passion for it) I had the option to clock out at 5 pm on Friday and not have to think about it again until Monday at 9 am.
While my husband and I enjoyed accrued vacation time and monthly budgets, there was an enormous amount of pressure to produce results. My job depended on it. My career and my reputation were only based on the last season’s results. Not the several years of blood, sweat and literal tears that I poured into someone else’s business. That the planned vacations became the only saving grace to my sanity to give myself a break from the pressure cooker that was ever present in my life. There was no loyalty and no contracts and at any given moment I could be replaced no matter my past contributions or success.
And then – somewhere along the line it was time to start a family.
As any full time working woman would do, I found suitable care for my newborn daughter and was back at work when my maternity leave (and therefore my job security) would expire. Even with a hard-negotiated new schedule that would give me a little more time at home, my job duties and expectations did not change. I just had less time to do it in. As a first time mother, having to drop my baby off with a babysitter so I could go fulfill someone else’s idea of a dream, in exchange for the security of a steady paycheck, seemed less and less appealing as the months turned into a years. The water cooler talk grew mundane and the invigorating challenges that used to thrill me only exhausted me – while now coupled with sleepless nights and severe mom-guilt.
Almost 4 years later, I left that job when my son was born, and the opportunity arose for me to stay home and just be a mom to my children (at least for a little while). It was a welcomed break. A long awaited exhale. I quickly realized what the details of the thankless role of being “just a mom” would entail. There were no incentives or annual bonus, but the moments were sweeter and the rewards were paid in newborn coos and 4-hour blocks of sleep. The water cooler was replaced with Dora the Explorer and the annual bonus was to that you didn’t have to pay a babysitter. The pressure was now on (myself) to be a great mother, to have dinner on the table each night, the laundry done, the house clean and smiling happy children when my husband walked through the door. Having no real accountability other than myself, the pressure was less, yes, but it was much different. The mom guilt that used to be present when I left the house to go to work, was replaced with the mom guilt of when I just took a shower, or talked to a friend on the phone just for a chance to connect with the world (and yes, this was before Facebook). Play dates were more for us than the kids because we needed that adult interaction to keep us sane. At least for me they were.
So which job was harder – The Working Mom vs. The Stay at Home Mom?
In my experience each had it’s pros and cons but my answer now is neither. It’s doing both at the same time. And many mothers are now finding themselves in this position. And not just for financial reasons. But raising a family in every sense of the word. Shifting your own life’s priorities and putting your personal hopes and dreams on the sidelines of what is best for your family as a unit. Being able to do something you love becomes a byproduct, with an enormous blessing as the cherry on top. Having your vocation become your ministry – is something I would never have dared ask for.
I knew my time at home was not forever. Because long ago my husband and I decided we would be a 2-income household. Always. I wanted to share in the financial responsibilities of maintaining a household. Not to live an extravagant lifestyle by any means, but to stay ahead of any debt, save for retirement, college educations and weddings – maybe a vacation here and there. If money grew on trees we might choose differently, but it doesn’t. I didn’t want my husband to have to work 2 jobs or to be away from home 90 hours a week so that I could stay home and our children didn’t have to go to a babysitter. We both wanted our family life to be a family “unit” as much as possible and if that meant that we all split up for part of the week so that we can all come together for a greater part of the week – then that is what we would do. I wanted to be his partner in this life and a true companion. A source of support and encouragement to him as much as he was to me. I wanted to be an example to my children that every one of us has something unique to contribute to this world. And even beyond all that, I enjoyed using the gifts that God had given me and I desired to be useful in whatever capacity I could. Whether it be a mother and a wife in my home, or something beyond even that.
As only God could, opportunities fell on my lap. Doors were opening and there was a giant shift about to happen in my life that I was almost too scared to embrace.
The idea of starting my own business. Actually, starting two. At the same time. With two babies at home. Only, I had been down this road before. A few years before. When I spent 6 + long months working on a franchise deal that we ultimately walked away from at the very last minute. It was too risky and we didn’t want to take a chance to lose everything. Not just money, but security and our future. Looking back I am so grateful we walked away. I didn’t like giving up the time and investment, but I sleep very well now, knowing “what could have been” did not happen.
I was the steady paycheck person. The planner, the goal oriented organizer, the – this is our monthly budget – person. Starting a business and being responsible for generating my own paycheck, in a household where I am (self inflicted) 50% responsible for the income, was not my idea of security. Not then and not now.
But somewhere along the line I grew tired of giving someone else’s business the very best of me. I realized if I was going to be spending time away from my children and family it had to have more purpose than just a job or a paycheck or sound investment.
Almost as a joke – a dare if you will, I slowly started to embrace these new opportunities. Using my skills and gifts but now doing something special that I loved. Work that excited me, that I felt had a long-term purpose and actual meaning. Skeptically. Cautiously. Thinking in the back of my mind, “I’ll try this for a while, but then I’ll take that other ‘real’ job”.
Fast forward a year or two and I found myself neck high running two separate (and surprisingly successful) businesses.
I’d love to say it was accidental, but it was very intentional. I just didn’t realize it at the time. Sometimes it was through strategic developments in my business and sometimes God just dropped it on my lap and I had to figure out the rest.
The most surprising of all was the difficulties of merging the two worlds of being a “stay at home mom” and being a “full time working mom”. Not only responsible for changing diapers and preparing meals as a caretaker, but now being responsible for teaching and shaping and preparing these little people for the world. For the everyday life lessons and the heartaches and the discipline and the stimulation of these two beautiful souls entrusted in my care for a lifetime.
I lost my way for a while. The guilt was in full force and hitting me from both sides. Guilt for tending to client’s needs instead of my children. Guilt for taking care of my children instead of my client’s need. Guilt for not making dinner. Guilt for not doing the laundry. Guilt for stopping to MAKE DINNER and telling a client that I could not meet their desired deadline. On a Sunday. I was relieved of not having the accountability of a boss, but that was replaced with the pressure to produce my own paycheck. I had guilt for being overwhelmed and not knowing where I could go to get help, because I had accepted this challenge, willingly. I just didn’t know what it was that I had accepted. I thought it was freedom and time with my family. Instead it was shackles, laced with stress and no one could understand or help me. Mainly because I was drowning so fast I didn’t even realize it as I went through the everyday motions.
I used my last remaining marble – to pray. For God to show me exactly what His initial plan was for me. That I knew this was not what He intended when He opened those doors for me and the opportunities came. I prayed for clarity and direction and if the time was over for me to “be at home” then I needed a new opportunity to present itself. In a big OBVIOUS way – because I was incapable of picking up on subtleties at this point. He pointed me to a community of women just.like.me. and the timing could not have been more perfect. I found comfort knowing I was not the only crazy person in this world who had taking on this calling and challenge. I found support from others in my situation and I was finally able to get out of the deep end of the pool that I had created for myself.
I found balance, and boundaries, and priorities, and goals. Healthy ones. I forgave myself for being overwhelmed and gave myself permission to say no to anything that didn’t align with God’s original vision for this season in my life.
I was able to let go of the fear of not having a steady paycheck by setting up systems and safety nets. I was able to unload a lot of the guilt by setting boundaries. LOTS of them. To my clients on when projects would be done and to even to my children on when they would get my attention. I finally realized it was better for them to have all of my attention most of the time, then half of my attention all of the time. To my family and friends for setting business hours – even though I’m “home” and even down to my bank account. If that means not taking on as much work so I could be done in time to make dinner, then so be it. I had to learn to trust God in His plan while being a careful steward of the provisions He had given me. I had to learn not to plan so much and be ok with accepting at any time this “ride” might be over and I might be called to a new direction.
I may have once been totally satisfied with a great maternity leave plan and job that missed me. But something stirred in my heart that there was more out there that I was meant to do. That I was not opening my eyes to the possibilities laid before me.
I finally sat down to think about – What ARE my ultimate priorities and goal?
I wanted be there for my kids. I wanted to be the wife my husband deserves. I wanted to do work that matters to someone. I wanted to serve others and use my gifts the way God intended me to. I wanted to truly enjoy the journey, for however long I could. To enjoy being a family unit while our kids are young. To raise my kids the way God teaches us to. To be a financial contributor to my household. To have the freedom to be available to my family when they need me. And if at all possible, to work from home for as long as I can, or at least until my kids were both in school. For as long as it took until their time away from home was not for my benefit, but for theirs.
Last week I registered my son for kindergarten. For some mothers signing their last baby up for school is bitter sweet because it’s a realization that they are growing up fast and how quickly time flies.
For me, it was a monumental moment. Time flies, yes, but it was that and so much more. It was a reminder that God is so faithful and how much He loves us and cares our everyday lives. That this journey that He took me on years ago has allowed me the opportunities to not only be there for my children and my husband, but to be used by Him in ways I never imagined. That He has given me the security I needed to be at peace while taking me on an amazing ride by trusting in Him. That His plans for me are so much better than my own. That by abiding in Christ, the rewards of HIS journey is sweeter than I ever could have imagined for my own. That above all things, my job is to LOVE, with steadfast intention and with joy in my heart. To love my husband, to love my children and to love all those who are in my path.
We can google how you too can find balance and priorities and boundaries, but the very best ones always point back to same book. Our world evolves and changes, but the principals taught will always remain the same. Forever unchanged and meant to last regardless of circumstance, location, profession, or priority.
Some of my favorites quotes are:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33